In addition to creating programming for gyms and athletes I also help mentor gyms in the gym business. Recently the question came up about retaining clients past the 3 year mark.
Many gyms in the CrossFit world (as well as other Group Exercise Studios/Gyms) struggle with the long term retention side of things. As members get fitter, their hard work goes into just maintaining the status quo instead of setting PRs every day or every week in the gym.
(The Arthur Murray Dance Studio reference will make a lot more sense after reading below)
Below is some of my thoughts as well as some history about the "Group Exercise" business.
(To get involved in talks like this, hit up the MadLab Group Website and see if what they are doing makes sense for your business).
Repeat after me...
We are not in the fitness business, we are in the relationship business. We are not in the fitness business, we are in the relationship business. We are not in the fitness business, we are in the relationship business.
Here is another one:
People don't buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.
If all of your branding and messaging is centered on "fitness", "health",
"wellness", whatever, you will always be working yourself out of a job. People will learn what they need from you in that 1-2 years and then be able to implement it at home or at the globo gym down the street.
The message that you need to have, the one that every one of your clients needs to be able to say in an instant (because it is so clear), is:
Your coaches and your gym are helping them have an awesome life, and you do that by practicing movement, coaching/accountability, and community.
They need to understand that they can 'workout' by themselves, but they will not have the community or the accountability that you provide.
And that they cannot have an awesome life without those ingredients.
We have roughly 50-60 current members that have been with us for 6+ years (some approaching the 10 year mark). The vast majority of them have stayed with us the entire time, but some left and came back. Those members are the ones that made us realize what we were really offering. They had gotten fit. They had bought home gyms. They knew how to eat, train, etc... But they needed to have the community. They needed coaches pointing them in the right direction and holding them accountable.
This is the relationship side.
It reminds me of that Arthur Murray Dance studio story.
My teacher's teacher (Al Tracy of Tracy's Karate -He and his brothers ended up owning 200+ martial arts studios in the 60s and 70s), went to a huge banquet dinner for Arthur Murray instructors and students (100s of people). Many of the instructors had been with AM for decades.
At one point, they had everyone stand up. They said "If you have been a student with Arthur Murray for less than 5 years sit down." And about 1/2 of the people sat down.
Then they said "If you have been a student with Arthur Murray for less than 10 years sit down." And about another 1/2 of the people sat down.
They went on to do 15 years, 20 years, and even 25 years!
There was more than a dozen people who had been paying for dance instruction for over 25 years!
To learn the Waltz... The Foxtrot...
This is NOT functional fitness to say the least!
That is when Al Tracy realized that he wasn't in the Martial Arts business, he was in the relationship business. Just like Arthur Murray's studios were.
Arthur Murray and Al Tracy built their empires on 30 minute private sessions 1 time per week with unlimited group classes. Arthur Murray started in the early 19th century and the Tracy brothers started in the late 50s / early 60s.
(Coincidentally, both AM and the Tracy's ended up using a very polished system for sales... I believe that it is based upon the Sandler system now that I am learning about what that is - I coached at a Tracy's school for 15+ years).
People will come to you because of their pain. Depending on the person and your gym, that generally means that they'll stick around for 1-3 years. If you aren't helping them with their pain, they'll quit. If you DID fix their pain, they'll quit.
It is your job to use that 1-3 years to build the relationship and to demonstrate that in order for them to have a great life they need to have a great community of people who will motivate and challenge them as well as fun stuff to do with these people.
I know I covered some pretty deep stuff here, so this is where I'll bring in some more practical information.
- Old member grandfathered pricing (with small price increases over time) will help with retention. If you have people that started with you 5 years ago and they are paying $150 when the new members are paying $200, they won't want to leave (because if they do, they'll be subject to the new pricing).
- Celebrating 'Tribal Elders' is another great way to promote the long term vision. Always pointing out clients that have been with you for a long time helps too.
- Having an annual calendar of events that people can train for. The Open. A Spartan or 5k race in the spring/summer. Weightlifting/Powerlifting/Strongman in the fall. Recruit large groups to do them and train together. The goal isn't for people to do them all, it is to get them to do 1 or 2 and then to support their friends doing the others. It also helps them to know there is an option that they may do one of these "someday"
- As cheesy as they might be, having members do a 'burpee challenge' or 'push up challenge' a few times per year can help keep it interesting as well. Not to mention the regular Whole Life Challenges.
- Having a couple 'trip' events is also good. These should not be competitive, but they should be things where people will want to be fit. Snow trips. Beach/Lake trips. Etc.
Another thing I wanted to point out is that looking at overall churn isn't always the best way to find out when people are quitting. If you have two members that have been with you for 6 years and you have 2 members who leave after a couple months, the average churn will say about 3 years.
You should sit down with the 6 year members and find out what makes them 'stick'. Try to instill those traits into the younglings and see if you can market to the people that already have those traits/pains.
I hope this helps you and your gym business thrive! Please share it with your partners and coaches.